The very first audiobook I recorded was Every Soul A Star, by Wendy Mass. The book was divided among three different narrators, each portraying one of the points of view of the three main characters. I narrated the segments told by Jack, an awkward boy who doesn't do well in school, and is forced to go to an astronomy campground in order to pass his science class. During the time I was recording Every Soul, I was also working my way through the excellent 1980s miniseries Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, by Carl Sagan.
Sagan was a masterful science communicator. His Cosmos didn't just dwell on what science has taught us, but rather he focused on science as a process of skeptical inquiry. His thick Brooklyn accent combined with his wide-eyed wonder were absolutely charming, and he exuded a contagious enthusiasm. The series originally aired in the early 1980s, and at the time, there was nothing like it on television. It was a big budget, thirteen part series that didn't hide its science behind the not-quite-Hollywood special effects that you see in a lot of today's science documentaries. Rather, the effects were there to enlighten, to help the audience to visualize complex scientific concepts.
There was a sad side to Cosmos, though: at the end of certain episodes, a noticeably older Carl Sagan would appear onscreen with the chiron “Ten Years Later.” His black hair had gone grey, his boyish features were now noticeably wrinkled. All was made even more poignant with the knowledge that Sagan died only a few years after these updates, at age 62.
Anyway, Every Soul A Star came along just as I was rediscovering my love for science, and in that book was Mr. Silver, a kindly science teacher who exposes Jack to the wonders of the universe. I came very close to making Mr. Silver sound like Sagan, but held back from doing such a specific character, since there were two other narrators on the book with whom I wouldn't have the opportunity to coordinate. So, I dropped the idea. After the book came out, I contacted Wendy Mass on Facebook in order to tell her how much I appreciated having Every Soul as my first audiobook. I mentioned that I had briefly considered doing Mr. Silver as Carl Sagan. She responded, saying that she had just added a Sagan quote to her next book, but might actually forego the quote in favor of using it in the title of the book after that.
Now, let's jump ahead from the summer of 2009 to the summer of 2011. I had had the pleasure of recording Mass' next book, The Candymakers, a wonderful story about four children trying to design the next big thing in candy. I met Wendy Mass at the Brooklyn Book Fair, not too far from my home. At the fair, she announced that she had just completed writing her next book, a sci-fi novel for kids called Pi in the Sky, about a boy who is the son of a nigh-omnipotent superbeing, charged with rebuilding the solar system after Earth disappears. Intriguing. I've been a science fiction fan for a long time, but it's a genre for which I've never recorded an audiobook, and here's this book with an intriguing premise. Not only that, the name Pi in the Sky calls to mind the famous quote from Cosmos: "If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe."
A couple of weeks ago, I got my notification from Recorded Books that I would be narrating Pi in the Sky, and was sent my copy of the book. It took me longer than usual to read, because of big personal life changes that have been happening, so it wasn't until only a week before I was to start recording that I discovered Carl Sagan was in the book! Not just as an inspirational quote, but actually as a speaking character who interacts with our young heroes! (I won't spoil exactly how this happens, or in what context, but it's pretty great). Anyway, Wendy Mass captured the Sagan I had been exposed to from Cosmos: the wide-eyed childlike wonder at the splendor of the universe, and also the memento mori of seeing the final years of a man who died young.
I've done some really fun audiobooks, based on exciting premises (a series based on middle schoolers following the advice of a Star Wars finger puppet comes to mind), but I don't think I've ever had a more enjoyable single chapter than the one where I finally got to play one of my personal heroes.
Below, I've posted a video I took of me reading the introduction to Pi in the Sky, entitled What You Should Know. Pi in the Sky will be available in July from Recorded Books. A free seven chapter preview is available for Kindle here.